CLEMSON — Jaelyn Lay saw his opportunity on Saturday and grabbed it.
Playing in Clemson’s annual Orange vs. White spring game, Lay was one of two tight ends assigned to the Orange team. With only two career catches with the Tigers, his name hasn’t been brought up much this spring.
Davis Allen and Braden Galloway each played significant roles in Clemson’s offense last season and seem to have larger spots secured for the fall. Dabo Swinney spoke earlier this spring about the development of the two tight ends, stating both will be great NFL players.
Where Lay fits into the mix was unknown entering Saturday. But after the scrimmage, it seems the redshirt sophomore inserted him into the conversation for more reps next season. Lay finished the spring game with six receptions for 39 yards, good enough to tie with Ajou Ajou and Joseph Ngata for the most receptions on the day.
Tony Elliott briefly spoke about Lay earlier this spring. As the new tight ends coach and offensive coordinator, he’s trying to mix the tight ends into the passing game more. Clemson’s tight ends pulled down 50 catches and seven touchdowns in 2020.
“J Lay’s got to come on,” Elliott said.
What stuck out about Lay’s performance on Saturday was his ability to lineup as a receiver. With a 6-foot-6, 270-pound frame, Lay’s body would seem to be a better fit as a blocking-first tight end, yet he had no problem lining up anywhere for his Orange team.
Paired with D.J. Uiageleli on the Orange team, the duo showed off their chemistry. Late in the first half, Lay lined up against safety Bubba McAtee. Running a quick hitch route, Uiageleli put the ball where only Lay could catch it, and the tight end outmuscled McAtee to get back and grab the ball.
If Galloway is the fastest player in the tight ends room, Lay’s body makes him the toughest tight end for defenses to deal with from a physicality standpoint.
“Good to see J Lay have a nice first-down conversion right there. He’s going to be a sophomore and a guy we have high hopes for,” Swinney said during the ACC Network broadcast.
A four-star recruit in the 2019 class, 247sports.com ranked him as the No. 10 overall tight end in the country. How Lay fits into the future plans for Clemson’s tight ends is unknown.
After his performance on Saturday, however, there’s no question he will have more than two career catches by the end of the 2021 season.